Which Is More Religiously Diverse?

Which Is More Religiously Diverse? April 26, 2018

I have a book for Garrick Ravi called The Festivals of India (there must be a new edition because the cover looks different). One thing about it that I really like is that it is many Hindu holidays but not just Hindu ones. There are Christian ones, Muslim ones, Sikh, and Jain, and Buddhist, and even one Jewish one (though the description of Christmas is pretty wild. The explanation for the Christmas tree is unlike anything I’ve ever heard!). It got me thinking that in a way India is more religiously diverse than America.

We might have people of all religions here but we are quite ignorant for the most part of any religion not our own.

In India even the Hindu majority knows the philosophies of the Jains, the Muslims, the Sikhs, the Buddhists, the Christians, and the Jews. There is a much stronger awareness of other people’s religions. In America it seems like we have all the same religions present but most people are so oblivious to the existence of other religons and their philosophies.

I wonder why it is so different.

  • Perhaps it is in which religion is dominent? That a Christian majority doesn’t have much interest in other faiths while a Hindu majority is much more open to different people’s paths to divinity.
  • Perhaps it is clearer in India what faith someone is since one’s clothing and/or name can easily indicate your family’s faith.
  • Perhaps it is because the various religions in India are more ingrained. In America there is a tendency to see white Christians as the “real Americans” and other religions are coming in with immigrants. It’s not actually true, but that is the perception. India has produced a great many faiths, such as Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Muslims have been present in India for hundreds of years since the Mogul invasion. Christians have been there a long time too. Missionaries have probably been in India since before America existed as a country.
Church in Kerela By Esme Vos (Flickr: Splendid interiors of a church in Kochi) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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What Makes Me A Hindu?

Did I Start Out Christian?

Why Am I Called “The White Hindu”?

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Hinduism 101: What Do Hindus Believe?

Can I Convert To Hinduism?

Your First Visit To A Hindu Temple

Super Simple Daily Puja


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  • showyourfacewithpride

    Completely agree about Indian people being more aware of other faiths than people in America or Canada. As a child growing up in India, I remember being taught in third grade social studies about different religions and their core beliefs. The teacher explained to us that, even though some beliefs may sound funny, we must respect them and try to understand them. Students belonging to different religions were encouraged to stand up in class and talk about their religion. We asked questions and learned that religions are almost always different in practice than theory. For example, our textbook said that Jains were of two kinds: ‘swetambara’ or white-clad and ‘digambara’ or nude. Obviously, this led to a lot of giggling, until the sole Jain student in class spoke up that they wore clothes like everyone else and did not go around either naked or in white.

  • Ch Billy

    I had written a post related to this in an article by Padma Kuppa (Seeking Shanti). Since I am lazy, I will reproduce that post here. A minor trigger warning that this post is quite critical (but never demeaning or disrespectful) of the kind of secularism that USA or any western country practices. A short background for the post is that the article of Padma Kuppa was talking about how science-based policy can be used to promote religious pluralism for which many commenters pointed out that science does not care about religion and, if at all, science preaches materialistic atheism and not religious pluralism. Here is the post:

    “I agree with the other comments in this section that science, in the way it is taught today, does not care for pluralism although I appreciate the intent behind this post. The fact that science today does not argue for pluralism is more of a reason to advocate Dharmic teachings. Dharmic philosophies of Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism openly advocate pluralism. I am not asking everyone should convert to one of Dharmic religions. I am merely asking people should be aware of the existence of pluralistic Dharmic religions and their philosophical arguments for advocating pluralism in society.

    I want to provide my unbiased and honest view of western society’s way of handling pluralism. I grew up in India. I went to a school where the Hindus constituted around 60%, Jains 20%, Muslims 15% and Christians and others 5%. My school was run by a Hindu temple trust. My school principal was a very ardent practicing Christian and my class teacher was an ardent practicing Muslim. My school captain was also an ardent practicing Muslim. None of them (my class teacher or school captain or principal) ever removed their religion from their duties. My principal did not miss mentioning the grace of Jesus Christ once in every 5 sentences she spoke. My class teacher and school captain always ended any conversation with Inshallah (God willing). And the school’s pupils who were mostly Hindu and Jain not only accepted them but also their religions. In any Hindu or Jain or Muslim or Christian festival, there were celebrations by everyone. The people of the faith with which the festival is associated gave a speech about the philosophy behind the festival without any attempts at secularizing it. Everyone had a basic level understanding of each others’ faith to understand and appreciate the non-secular speeches during the festivals. We accepted the philosophy as it is and appreciated and celebrated all festivals together along with eating food made by each other. This was the India I grew up in. This was not just limited to my school. The entire country in all its spheres right from politics, industry to society had representatives from all faiths who openly practiced their faiths. All the festivals were celebrated in pubic or on the streets and no one ever complained and, as a result, no one felt obliged to turn down the intensity of their celebrations. I thought this was the definition of secularism.

    A few years ago, I moved to USA to pursue higher studies. I saw a completely different secularism here. People here tolerate other religions apparently instead of embracing and celebrating them. People, out of “secular” decency, only celebrate their faiths in private. When they talk about their religions, they do not give details of philosophy or practice but give a “secular” version of what they intend to speak. This is because people are generally not knowledgeable of other faiths and are also not interested in knowing. Without understanding each others’ religions, they encourage repression of any form of religious practice in public spheres. This went to an extent that when I wished an American Christian friend Merry Christmas on Dec 25, he got offended and corrected me that it was Happy Holidays actually and I thought I was the non-Christian who was supposed to be offended if at all. To be frank, I know why these two different secularism philosophies emerged from these two countries. The majority religion in India is Hinduism which is openly pluralist and accepts every faith as legitimate as long as it is sincere. Hence, India has open and publicly visible secularism of the celebratory kind. The majority religion in USA is Christianity which is openly exclusivist and rejects all other faiths terming them as illegitimate. Hence, USA has closed and publicly invisible i.e., private secularism of the repressive kind.

    I have had many long discussions with Americans about which secularism is the correct one to follow. They provided some legitimate demerits of the Indian kind of secularism saying that public celebrations might lead to riots and law and order situations (which is true in India) in extreme cases. Also, they argued that it is futile and impractical to expect exclusivist faiths like Christianity and Islam to openly accept and embrace other religions. Although I agree with these demerits, I am still biased towards the Indian kind of secularism. Indian secularism is messy on the outside but clean on the inside. American secularism is clean on the outside but messy on the inside. Indian secularism, once succeeded, will work as a long-term irreversible solution whereas American secularism will always be just a temporary fix that is vulnerable to all sorts of internal rebellions. The reason I wrote this long post here is that instead of using science as the entity driving pluralism in society (which will clearly fail as we see already in this comment section), I believe USA should adopt Indian style of secularism to drive pluralism in society. Although, it is a long shot and requires a lot of change in peoples’ minds, it can begin right now by doing course correction.”

    What secularism do you prefer Ambaa and why (assuming you are not offended by me being so critical about US)?

  • Ch Billy

    Although I like this article, I want to add that the arrival of Christianity and Islam in India was much earlier than what is mentioned here.

    Christianity entered India in the first century CE barely 20 years after the death of Jesus Christ through Thomas the Apostle. Now, this has been hotly disputed by both non-Christians and Christians alike. The non-Christians claim that the Jesuit missionaries who arrived in India in the 15th century invented this story to spread Christianity in a more palatable way in India. The Christians claim that there is no evidence of European style or Eastern Orthodox style churches as evidence to show that this is true. However, a clever counter argument to both these Christians and non-Christians is that the Eastern Orthodox did not develop in middle east and Russia until later centuries CE and the European churches did not appear until 5th to 6th centuries CE after Christianity was codified in the empire of Constantine. So, the Christianity that arrived in India should have been one very different from that which is widely followed today. A very peculiar kind of Christianity is indeed followed in the coastal areas of the southern most tip in India in Kerala and Tamil Nadu where Thomas the Apostle is rumored to have first visited. Here, a fishing community worship Jesus and Mary as deities alongside with Hindu deities, especially a Goddess (a form of Parvati) who is known to have been revered among fishing communities. Now, although these people claim that they have family lineage going back to Thomas the Apostle, many critics rubbish such claims saying that it was possible this lineage only goes back to medieval times at the most. But, there is still no conclusive evidence proving Thomas the Apostle never made it to Indian coast.

    Islam entered India before so early that the second mosque ever built in the world after the first one in Medina is in Methal, Thrisshur, Kerala in 629 CE which is even before the famous Mecca Masjid where people go for Hajj!!! There is conclusive evidence for this as it is widely documented that a member of a royal family in Kerala visited Prophet Mohammed and was fascinated by him and as a tribute to him ordered his men to build a mosque in Kerala and this happened when Prophet was in Medina before he traveled to Mecca.

  • S Kr

    Here is an essay written about a decade ago which I think will be extremely helpful for Americans to understand how HUGE and DIVERSE India really is … I am sharing the relevant screenshot … Do read and share (Original link : http://www.india-seminar.com/2003/529/529%20george%20perkovich.htm ) https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/a4e5e5ca9bdd2170234f5203529309fe4a5fb95f92a79aef9431e818e1e14a07.jpg

  • kartashok

    There is more awareness because Hindus have been weak pussies for too long taking all sorts of abuses from Muzzies, Christians, communists, socialists and other cultural marxists and never doing anything about it. Not something I’m proud of. Holy war is needed for the soul of our motherland to be restored to her ancient children.